“You always have one drink on there for you – there’s always the bartender’s favourite,” James Connolly, bar manager at Long Chim, says laughing.
He’s referring to the cocktail list at Long Chim, and his latest creation for it, the Mig 21, made with whisky, absinthe, honey liqueur, orange bitters and salt. It’s just one cocktail on the list at the new sister restaurant of the Perth hit, which opened in Sydney last month.
The list has been designed to complement Thai street flavours. “We wanted to work with the flavours and the culture to make sure it matched the rest of the venue,” says Connolly, who created the list while picking chef David Thompson’s brain. “David’s got an amazing palate, so we’re always running things past him. He knows the profiles inside out.”
Take Thai staple kaffir lime leaves, for example. They’re infused in vodka for one of Long Chim’s signature cocktails, the Or Tor Kor Mule.
“If they’re pounded with a mortar and pestle they can release great aromatics, but can become too astringent if you use too many of them or leave them to infuse for too long,” says Connolly. “You need to understand the flavours you’re using.”
There are tropical influences dotted throughout the list, such as the Chalong Cocktail with lemongrass liqueur, gin, Thai bitters and orange; and the Bangkok Painkiller with rum, coconut, pineapple and mandarin sherbet.
In Long Chim’s case, choosing the right cocktails for the new venue began with an idea for the drink’s foundation (either an ingredient or flavour). After consulting with chefs on individual flavour profiles, Connolly infused and tested ingredients in small batches. They were combined with other ingredients, stirred or shaken and poured into glasses for assessment by the broader team.
“It’s quite involved, but luckily people have been coming up with cocktails for a couple of hundred years now, so we’ve got a good base,” he says.
For Lewis Jaffrey, developing the cocktail list at Big Poppa’s began with defining what his team didn’t like about current drink trends.
“We wanted to shun a lot of what was happening, like overcomplicating drinks and having 15 different syrups and 25 different bitters,” says Jaffrey. He opened the Surry Hills venue with co-owner Jared Merlino in July. “People can get lost trying to create a syrup from back in the 18th century when, really, cranberry juice does the trick.”
The result is carefully selected flavours split across two levels. Upstairs in the restaurant Italian dishes such as hand-cut pappardelle with lamb shoulder ragu and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and seared yellow-fin tuna loin with sun choke and cauliflower puree are paired with Italian-inspired cocktails. There’s the Corto Scintillare made with Tanqueray gin, cocchi rosa, Italian bitters and lemon sorbet. And the Amaranti Sgroppino made with Don Julio tequila, tio pepe, lemon, prosecco and raspberry sorbet.
Downstairs there’s a 1.5-metre mural of Biggie Smalls, leather booths, velvety carpet and a steady stream of hip-hop. It’s this space that inspired Jaffrey and Merlino to let their team’s imagination run wild with its second cocktail list.
“Upstairs is more food-focused, but downstairs we let the guys go nuts and showcase drinking styles, methodology and flavour profiles,” he says, adding that they use mini umbrellas, sorbets and ice-creams to add to the playfulness.
There’s the Pineapple Express with Ketel One vodka, apricot, benedictine, lime, pineapple, ginger beer and egg white; the B.A.N.A.N.A.S with coconut rum, aged rum, banana, lime and vanilla ice-cream; and the bar’s secret twist on the ’80s classic, the Grasshopper.
“Most bartenders would be embarrassed to make a Grasshopper these days, so we wanted to make the best one anybody’s ever had,” says Jaffrey. Big Poppa’s uses ice-cream for its take. “We’ve given it a different name (the Sauterelle), so even cocktail nerds find it appealing.”
A favourite among bartenders, the Corpse Reviver No.2 has also been given the Big Poppa’s touch with the addition of white coconut rum and Blue Curaçao.
“We call it the Corpse Reviver Mali-Blû,” says Jaffrey. “We’ve taken a very serious drink and made it a bit more fun. We serve it over a bright-blue ice cube as an extra touch.”
Long Chim’s Or Tor Kor Mule
Makes one. Approximately 1.5 standard drinks.
45ml kaffir lime-infused Ketel One Vodka
2 dashes Bitter End Thai Bitters (Angostura is a good substitute)
10ml fresh lime juice
150ml Capi Flamin’ Ginger Beer
Dash sugar syrup
Add all ingredients except ginger beer to a highball glass. Fill with ice, then add ginger beer and stir briefly. Skewer the lime leaf and lime wedge together. Add two long straws, and garnish with the skewer.
Big Poppa’s Corpse Reviver Mali-Blû Makes one. Approximately 1.5 standard drinks.
20ml Tanqueray gin
10ml white coconut rum
10ml Blue Curaçao
10ml sugar syrup
Dash of absinthe
Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Double-strain over ice in a rocks glass.